What is Nature? – Post-Structural Structures?


"Man’s mind and interest are so deeply rooted in the earthly [mundane?] that we require a like power to have them raised above that level. His spirit shows such poverty of nature that it seems to long for the mere pitiful feeling of the divine in the abstract, and to get refreshment from that, like a wanderer in the desert craving for the merest mouthful of water. By the little which can thus satisfy the needs of the human spirit we can measure the extent of its loss."
– Hegel

Interregnum: the space outside the box & between the lines; that is, the world sans our established categories; circulation tangent to established (modern, post-modern) distribution networks and practices.

Nature: If nature is, by definition, "the merely passive, inert, mechanical and material" (– Croce) or even the totality (or container-form) of such qualities (content), and if the supernatural is that which transcends nature, then "spirit" would indeed be the appropriate gloss for any entities, effects, anomalies or processes who/which reside in the semantic realms not defined by (which is also to say "not restricted to") "the merely passive, inert, mechanical and material". A kindred word often invoked by various cogs, minions and automatons is "delusion"! The delusion (obfuscation), of course, is that the universe, (or "nature & its nature") is the unified explication of the banal and mundane. Poe said of it: "as Spirit, that is to say, as not Matter". The old Cariban suffix marking sacred phenomena translates to something like 'that which is unknown', and in some (polite & joking) situations, 'not (as) grand (as it may appear)'. Geist as used by Hegel and noumena by Jung refer to conscious apprehension, not 'phantom' or 'ghost of a dead person': Bergson insisted that memory itself must be spirit, as it cannot be said to display extensity – it is called-up or "divined".

About the time the structuralist psychologist, Jean Piaget published the final statement of enlightened structuralism in 1968, Le Structuralisme, the modern universe had collapsed on itself. He described structures as self-regulating wholes which are systems of transformation, both structuring and structured, and, unlike formal systems, exist independent of the observer. Structural laws (regulations?) are nothing but regularities observed through comparison. Structures maintain cybernetic equilibrium through the process of feedback. Systems make constant adjustments through assimilation and accommodation. Even in transformation, structures conserve themselves. Between 1968 and 1972, structuralism transformed itself and became post-structural, merely reflecting the decay of modern progressive thought which was starting to question not just our political assumptions, but all the underlying assumptions we hold about life, the universe & everything. Iconoclasty was not given birth, by any mean(ing)s, but started to spread, infecting each and all. The spectacle was not quite forced into hiding, but reacted by becoming even more spectacular, until it discovered cowboy-disco, the "moral majority" and the god-state of the new science of economics. Ironically, this most modern age of morbid progress is the result of possibly the most conservative move ever made by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, giving us Bonzo the clown and Margaret Thatcher in 1980 as chief spokespersons for progress through a "decadent" fundamentalism. Iconoclasts are only just starting to recover.

A juxtaposition of post-structuralist thinkers (that is to say, a revived functionalism equipped with better microscopes) within biology (attempting to preserve their status as biologists following a historical tradition) suggests that all structures emerge from organization and all organizations follow similar (commensurate) pat­terns, or organizing principles. Organizing principles are patterns of relationship, of flow, even exchange. Even when elements come and go, the structure stays the same if organization (reciprocal relation) is maintained. A structure is a matter of affiliation and engagement, connection and flow. Tight connections are strong and lasting, such as seen in a rock. We say molecules have intimately bonded to form a structure. There is still flow, but largely at the molecular and especially atomic level (atoms might share elec­trons and thus bond to form a molecule). Even so, certainly rocks are subject (or change in relation) to erosion (eg., weathering) and accretion (eg., external pressure) – we cannot say a rock does not tolerate demographic flux in its constituent membership: all things move, all moving things change. From the perspective of classical physics, one can say liquid and gas behave according to the same principles. From one external factor or another (such as temperature or pressure – not simply "forces" but products (resultants, emergents) themselves of other relations beyond our view), their difference from each other is a matter of tightness of connection and re­sponse to external conditions (adaptation). Equally, one can not say a rock has no in­fluence on it's surroundings. Think about this the next time you pass a sign reading "watch for rolling rocks" and then think about your own adaptation! Watch the bubbles disappear when you toss a cold stone into a pot of boiling water and feel how warm the stone has become when you extract it!

Obviously, the autonomy or closure of any structure is relative. The autonomy of a rock or any other structure does not mean there is no mutual influence with its sur­roundings. Mutual influence is ubiquitous or the rock not only ceases to exist, it was never born in the first place. A lake is only a liquid structure in companionship with sur­roundings which are solid and gaseous (the shoreline, the lake-bed, the sky). The points where the liquid communicates with its surroundings is its boundary. When we look closely, it is a "fuzzy" region of indeterminacy. All structures are matrices of organized communication, unlike logical systems which proclaim boundaries from reference to an imposed, imaginary center. For this reason alone, logico-mathematics is not a "natural language". We call this process of "natural" or "organic" communication "systemic relation". Thus, ecosystems are sets of relations of communication. "Structure", "organization" and "system" are nouns, abstractions meant to communicate process. They do not refer to objects but to abstractions from a vast multidimensional array of comings and goings, attractions, engagements and con­nections, reformations, revolutions, disenchantments, rearrangements, assassinations ... every verb in any language is appropriate to fill in this sentence yet are still inadequate to complete it. There is no simple answer to life, the universe and everything. As Arthur Dent and Ford found out, "Its going on all around us!" (– Douglas Adams). Obviously, this assemblage is not restricted to the material, as just as obvious­ly, organisms affiliate, engage, connect, flow, as well as do the resultants and emer­gents of their relations – ideas, projects, babies...

From the above, we should be able to see that those things displaying looser connections move faster (or more "freely"), they are more fleeting. Observe the almost Brownian motion in a flock of swarming Sandhill Cranes flying overhead compared to Canadian Geese. Direction and speed is maintained in the long run whether in formation or out. Neither can be said to be more nor less efficient. That is a moral assessment. The goose pattern is merely a mutual aerodynamic communication which is not forced, but accommodating. It is not the only way to fly. Cranes do things differently, yet they still communicate an aesthetic to us while getting where they want to go when they want to get there. One cannot really say the goose is less free. Aerodynamic adaptation allows the goose to relax a bit and enjoy the scenery. Adaptation, or communication with (immersion in) one's surroundings reduces struggle. The goose is no less an anarchist than the crane. The difference between them is a matter of historical (genealogical) connection, surely, just as much it is a matter of structure. They represent different constellations of connections of ritualized performative behavior. These constellations we call species.

A species is a class, a product of classification. Observers classify, ritualize, and then they remember. This is a matter of repeated generalization among friends, and friends are only affiliations of folks imitating each other. Imitation is found in the giving and receiving of gifts. Now we have come full circle to affiliation and engagement, connection and flow. Genealogy adds another part of the pattern – reproduction. Organic systems are subject to erosion as much as are rocks. We are talking death here. Unlike rocks, organics produce new constellations to take their place. The individual is no more nor less a constellation than a species, it merely exhibits tighter connections. We think it more "real" but that is only an optical illusion.

A species is both objectively real and subjectively ideological. The ideological "component" only reflects the looseness of connectivity. What is fleeting is considerably harder to pin to the table and examine through a magnifying lens than a butterfly caught in the hand. As said above, loose connections allow more movement. That does not necessarily mean a lack of fit, except from the goose's perspective when contemplating a crane. Where connections loosen, everything comes to be seen coming together and falling apart. The crane lets us know that this "falling apart" does not necessarily mean death. This is cognition's limitation as a method of "discovery". We cannot claim absolute knowledge of the "sacred", of that which is complex, of general abstraction. We do not even agree on the mundane and simple, the specifications. We create and adapt words and connect and share them in order to navigate life, not to outwit it. But ideologies emerge which take on a life of their own. Thought comes to out-live the thinker.

In our case, thought can rule our lives, even if we claim no kinship to it. Obviously, it is not thought which has come to life (except in the poetic sense) but behavior (navigation) imitated is continually reproduced not so much in formation (isomorphism) but as a matter of conservation. Ideology is a matter of habit, and those habits have consequences we may not be aware of. What idiot gave us the idea we could manage and administer life? Master the universe? Conquer nature? Administrative decisions kill everyday. Management is exploitation and destruction. Should we try to rehabilitate death? Management is the attempt to achieve immortality, to turn ideas into stone idols, to create permanent organizations of control immune to fluctuation. Permanent organization creates the heretic and the terrorist, the suicidal depressive and the schizophrenic. Survivors evolve from living organism to unthinking, intractable machine, "desiring machines" still open to passive reception of information keeping them in formation. Even the radical philosopher, Deleuze conserved the notion of a machinic universe.

What appears an unconscious process is still a sort of ritual behavior. To avoid confusion and perhaps unwanted connotation, iterable is the new name applied. There is a certain value to metaphor (like viral infection), particularly when incommensurable processes seem to share similar patterns. Sometimes we just need to use new words for old ideas, especially when those ideas have passed right over our heads. Schools, and more loosely, traditions supply a consciousness to the ritual process. Information cannot be force-fit.

"I think there is a lot in ordinary language and in received grammar that constrains our thinking – indeed, about what a person is, what a subject is, what sexuality is, what politics can be – and that I’m not sure we’re going to be able to struggle effectively against those constraints or work within them in a productive way unless we see the ways in which grammar is both producing and constraining our sense of what the world is".

"Those intellectuals who speak in a rarefied way are being scapegoated, are being purged, are being denounced precisely because they represent a certain anxiety about everyone’s effect – that is, what effect are any of us having, and what effect can we have?"
– Judith Butler

Language: class and other categorizations

If we think of information (god, I hate what that word has become, but it has its uses) instead of molecules, the kind of closure Humberto Maturana discussed[1] with regard to organisms also applies to communication events, and language itself. Any way you look at it, classification and categorization are products of (actually, mutually involved with) labeling, and as insisted by the BIP ("Black Iron Prison" project), the labels we come to agree on act like cell bars in that they set the world in stone and often have the effect of barring further investigations into meaning. If "phonemic" language is one of our particular means of living, I would expect to see a recapitulation of living processes observable in language itself. There is a certain reality (or should I say "poietry"?) lurking under all our metaphors.

"Class", and more specifically, "Proletariat" are productions of classification. This should be news to no one. Many years ago, I noticed that in Polynesian languages (in this case, Samoan) a single term would be used to "designate" (correlate with) some very different ideas. For example, 'Ainga meant in one case, 'family' or 'house', another 'village', another 'local group' (of villages) and another 'island' (Samoa) as well as the "platform" the chief sits upon. Of course, reference derives from the context of the speakers (semantic environment) and there is no confusion among the speakers (what distinction is unnecessary, is unspoken). Linguists referred to this as polysemic hierarchy. I called it "shifting levels of abstraction". This phenomenon is very widespread (beyond Polynesia, particularly in those "kin-based" societies with cognatic kinship terminologies – classifying relations and organizing through both the father's and mother's "lines") and never problematic except to translators unfamiliar with the local culture.

I would say it is less hierarchic than a reflection of linguistic ("meaningful") patterns turning up at every "level" (or events, situations, etc.) of the culture. In English, class is such a word. There is some sense of meaning shared among many uses. It is more than a mere mathematical container (information set) or group of 'objects' which share an informational marker. We used to think of social (or economic) class as objective groups of real people mutually antagonistic with (but dependent on) each other within a single society. This used to be more true (empirically verifiable, "actually" observable) than it is today. While the antagonism and interdependence is still visible, the classes are not quite the objective, member-defined groups they once were. Today many see class composition as a continuum in which opposition is readily observed when viewing the end-points. At the very least, this perspective (A rather than THE class analysis) is very important in order to even perceive that there is something to bitch about.

With so many positions, roles, functions inherent to "complex" society, it is often difficult to abstract beyond one's own terrain, and when 'physical' movement is restricted (for example, from the ghetto to the country club), next to impossible. Specialization (or bureaucratisation and its cubicle isolation) is the death of polysemy and the birth of reification[2] – we must be specific, yet we can't ourselves specify beyond the superficial or mundane: "This rock goes in that compartment". Generalization only surfaces as "over-generalization" and requires medication when work demands "detail-oriented team players". Cognition actually becomes a fetter to our everyday (working) lives.

The proletariat is merely class observed from the point of view of work, logically, if not consciously opposed to the capitalist ("upper management"). Originally, "work" in this context referred to industrial/factory drudgery. Today, the worker refers to anyone forced to sell labour in exchange for bread. Many revolutionary thinkers use the term "proletariat" to refer to workers who share some bit of revolutionary consciousness. A good argument could be made that the so-called ruling class (ceo's of corporations, the "privileged") also sell themselves, but their loaves of bread are bigger and more abundant. Some of them from time to time express a level of disgruntlement as to almost suggest revolutionary desires – mostly not and certainly not in the direction many others would wish, where "revolution" is only another name for coup d'état.

I would say in this day and age class is not an objective, measurable phenomenon, but a pattern of (pathological) relationships recapitulated in every aspect of our culture, whether at a conscious level or not[3]. From the point of view of the household before mothers became liberated to engage in more "legitimate" forms of prostitution (it's been suggested that we're all prostitutes), the father/patriarch represented the ruling class (power-that-is), the wife and children the proles. When he caught the train each day to go to the factory (or office), he was the prole (and damned proud of it!). When he was smothered in a drunken slumber by his wife's pillow, from the kid's place of observation, she became the new autocrat (gradual evolution) unless she was able to undergo a complete transformation. Mostly this did not happen because there was a reciprocal relation (a dance) between the husband's sense of abusive authority and her own sense of submissive helplessness. In fact, many more mothers died from abuse than retaliated, and those who did strike back ended up in prison on manslaughter charges and the kids were taken by the state. There was, however, a transformation (punctuation in the equilibria) which many women saw as liberating. Divorce became the defining marker for marriage. Unfortunately, this transformation was not in the direction originally hoped for. One kind of slavery only replaced another, albeit with fewer bumps and bruises seen from the outside.

"In changes of state the operational characteristics of the system change while it conserves its class identity. In disintegrative changes, as the original system disappears, something else arises in its place."
– Maturana

The "revolution" ("disintegrative change") was perceived by the kids who no longer had a full time parent at all. The implications of brief periods of so-called "quality time" are only now coming to be observable. Unfortunately, no one is quite sure what this "quality" means or entails. Our levels of abstraction change with our shifting positions. Our subprograms (linear, objective assessments) prevent us from seeing the world as anything but set in stone. Successful viral inoculation can only be accomplished at a gut level. Logic and reason do not move stones. If we happen to see similar patterns, we relegate them to "interesting coincidence" unless we are seduced by them, and seduction is always a bodily (emotional) function. Outside of the mechanistic details of a job description, dynamite can neither be invented nor utilized without a certain investiture of passion.

Community and the Class War

Community was destroyed through the process of disorganization. What goes by the euphemistic rubric, "global community", is just a "regime" by another name. This new regime can only be destroyed in the same manner. If this catastrophic, planet-killing regime is a recapitulating pattern of social relations, and we have any agency at all, it will be witnessed only in our simultaneous disengaging (de-regimentation) from one and reconnecting in another kind of relation. Maletesta and Landauer said much the same long ago.

Today's iconoclast is in search of uniqueness, but must be careful of what s/he wishes if one's own final know-nothing alienation and death is not considered part of the nihilist project. Uniqueness is not something one can search out or discover, it is the starting point for all searches and discoveries.

Without uniqueness, there's no difference;
Without difference, there's nothing to communicate;
Without communication, there's no community;
Without community, there's no commonality;
Without commonality, there's no synchronicity;
Without synchronicity, there's no meaning.
Without meaning, there's no association;
Without association, there's no knowledge.
– Atka Mip

The virus of civil discontent was initiated (emerged) somewhere in antiquity by folks who could recognize some patterns in the world around them, even if they were ignorant of many others. No one can predict the future since at this point, it does not exist. We will not know the resultant of a revolutionary emergence until we have already replaced the normal with the different. Supersession is only the relative proportion of the supersedent to that superseded, between the new and the old when a virus goes dormant after a period of metastasis – a remission. In this case, the cancerous virus is a pattern hiding in the unconscious (whether individual or collective), an archetype (even where the "unconscious" is viewed as a collection of subliminal behavioural habits, not excluding inclinations and expectations – under the radar, so to speak). The pattern comes to merge or incorporate itself in a symbiotic fashion into all the organs with which it comes into contact. Archetypes are rendered harmless when there is no niche left within which they might "fit" or are recognized and then detourned to such an extent that their original meaning (or emotional impact) has been lost.

If stasis lives along the lines, an adequate critique must come from a position between the lines. Revolution is a commitment to that "interregnal space".

In this day and age, community can only exist between the lines, outside of institutional habitats. It has a suppressive effect on the kind of conflicting class identity which infects us. Recognition of affinity (kin, friend) is probably unavoidable in social animals (perhaps in life itself) as is its counterpart, "predator", "enemy", "outsider". Community offers a degree of closure. Revolutionary consciousness is always possible (by virtue of our "loose" connections – we are not functional telepaths!) and this is accommodated by communities by various means, including marriage outside (affiliation with a different community), forming new "renegade" communities, accommodating itself to (or incorporating) differences which emerge (the rapid diffusion of "inventions") etc. All of these means require a certain amount of choice. If choice is not taken, ostracism of the different is a common result for that which refuses to share in this mutual relation of mutual influence, this communication. "Authentic community" annihilates the dialectic friction between subjective self and objective other when self and other, subject and object are seen as merely different (exchangeable) points of view. Only then can the iconoclast take a break from h/er established routines.

The state is the class of social pressure, the "social" saturation of pathological relations equipped with a speed-dial to men with guns. The state always takes an adversarial stand and has the opposite effect of any community. Any attachments deemed necessary (such as productive relations) must initially be forced. Afterwards, dissent becomes a dormant virus through the habit, routine, iteration of the imposed patterns. If dissent starts to show itself (Poe's "imp of the perverse"), it is forced back into hiding by rational justification in order to conserve established routines. The disorganization of community itself is the root of alienation. We no longer know who our friends are, we classify and then only show solidarity with the "class" – reified objects don't bite back in a war of all against all.

We have finally come to the point where there are only two choices left to us: revolution and auto-extinction. Unless the revolution takes the pattern of forming organic communities which recapitulate the "natural" (at least "less pathological" – even a bug can distinguish between nutritious and toxic) patterns operating all around us, extinction is certain. "Go with the flow, daddy-o" does not mean "Follow the lemmings over the cliff" in the spirit of anthropocentrism. We need to do more than merely re-think our social relations, we need to start relating differently. There is no "How?" Only a diversity of options will ensure our continuation. As Maturana said, the thing which life ultimately conserves is living, and what else is life than a splendid display of diversity.

A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe”; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

The delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty
.
– Einstein

 


Notes:

[1]Reality: The Search For Objectivity Or The Quest For A Compelling Argument

[2]:  By reification, I mean any or all of the following: to attatch an absolute or only mildly relative value to a particular significatum which excludes other possibilities 'before' they come into focus, suggestive that the category or class has prior claims on 'reality' over its content or members; to establish an identity between a significatum and the metaphor we use to refer to it, thus creating a "dead metaphor"; to think of a process, experience or activity as if it were a "thing"; to confuse "subject-matter" (of discourse) with material object. It is a matter of thingifying and arithmeticizing the universe, bringing it to a standstill, extinguishing meaningful possibility in favour of 'blind' convention, yet not by intention. It can take years of training as well as proceed from an immediate loss of interest.

[3]:  It is not ironic that habits are free to generalise across situations without any conscious intervention whatsoever while an aware "we" may not.

 


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